Elements' 'fire' cocktail gets its heat from cayenne-cardamom simple syrup. Simple syrups are an easy way to add complex flavors to beverages. - Bob Pennell

'Simple' Sipping

Where there's fire, there's got to be heat.

That's why Chris Dennett infuses his Elements "fire" cocktail with a blend of sweet-hot spices that complement the drink's passion fruit and orange overtones.

"We're making it with actual cardamom, actual cayenne," says Dennett, owner of the downtown Medford tapas bar.

The method is simple — literally.

Simple syrup, as the name suggests, is a basic bartending ingredient. But the sugary water becomes complex when steeped with all manner of herbs, spices, fruit and other aromatics.

"Spicy-sweet is fun; sour-sweet is kind of fun," says Dennett. "Rather than going pure sweet on drinks, drinks are starting to go sweet and savory."

Crafting a bacon-flavored martini and a sage-spiked fizz for a March cocktail competition in Jacksonville, Dennett also has experimented with saffron-pimenton simple syrup to conjure the taste of paella in a glass.

"Every once in a while we just start making simple syrups," he says.

They're simple to make in the home kitchen, too, by heating sugar in water on the stove top until dissolved, cooling and adding any other ingredients to impart the desired flavor. Steeping the syrup overnight intensifies the tincture before straining off the solid ingredients.

But Dennett doesn't strain his fire syrup, which adds flecks of spices to the cocktail. The move, he says, proves the drink's authenticity — customers know it's not artificially flavored and more likely house-made.

Dissolving a drink's sugar crystals, however, is exactly the point of simple syrups. When intended for cocktails and other drinks, the common syrup ratio is two parts sugar to one part water for a thicker product that both sweetens and adds body to a drink — even plain seltzer water or coffee.

The more traditional ratio for simple syrup is equal parts sugar and water for use as a glaze on some baked goods.

Here are a half-dozen ideas to simply sweeten summer beverages.

Flavoring suggestions

  • Chili-saffron — 1 large pinch saffron threads, 1 chopped jalapeno chili;
  • Orange-star anise — 2 whole star anise, zest from 1 orange;
  • Cranberry-ginger — 6 ounces (11/3 cups) dried cranberries, 2-inch chunk fresh ginger, sliced;
  • Lemon-thyme — Zest of 2 lemons, 1 package (3/4 ounce) fresh thyme sprigs;
  • Raspberry-lemon — Zest of 2 lemons, 10 ounces frozen raspberries, thawed;
  • Cardamom-vanilla-berry — 1 vanilla bean (split and seeds scraped into the syrup), 6 ounces dried, mixed berries, 6 crushed cardamom pods.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487, or e-mail The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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